One of the main purposes of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is “To ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free, appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living” (IDEA, 2004, § 300.1(a)). Additionally, IDEA requires transition programming for individuals with disabilities to include an emphasis on development of employment skills. Unfortunately, even with this requirement, individuals with autism experience significant challenges entering the workforce and/or maintaining employment leading to lower employment rates of individuals with ASD than individuals without a disability (Newman et al., 2011) and people with other disabilities (Shattuck et al., 2012). To help alleviate this disparity, a large focus of transition programs for individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities includes an emphasis on community involvement and the development of vocational skills. Teachers within these programs target these skills using both direct instruction and supported job-site training using a variety of evidence-based practices such as visual supports, video modeling, and social narratives (Steinbrenner et al., 2020). These practices are utilized prior to and during on-site job experiences.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many traditional methods of instruction and on-site job experiences were halted and teachers needed to utilize additional forms of technology to continue to support students’ skill acquisition in this area. Fortunately, technology-based instruction has been proven to help support the development of independent vocational skills (Van Laarhoven et al., 2012). Interventions that include video and audio have the capability to be played back and provide opportunities for repeated exposure to prepare the student for the targeted task (Seaman & Cannella-Malone, 2016).
During the 2020-2021 school year although many classes resumed partially in-person, many of the community experiences for transition programs were limited. To bridge this gap, a variety of educational technology tools were combined to create an interactive job shadow for students within an outplacement transition-age program.
- ThingLink – A tool that allows the user to upload an image and create interactive hotspots that can link to text, images, videos, or other websites. ThingLink also allows the creator to record their voice or use Microsoft Immersive Reader to read text out loud.
- YouTube – Video streaming platform that allows for videos to be posted publicly, private, or unlisted. Automatic closed captions can be enabled and video speed can be increased or decreased based on viewer need.
- Boom Cards – Interactive platform where users can create hot spot, text field, matching, and multiple-choice options with correct and incorrect feedback. This tool provides options for data collection or a “Fast Play” without data collection. With the premium version, audio can also be added to the activity.
These three tools allowed a variety of aspects of a job site to be highlighted for students with opportunities to check understanding during their engagement with the activity. ThingLink was utilized to provide the foundation for the job shadow. Within this tool, a variety of pages can be linked together. To illustrate its use, a case example of a Bakery Job Shadow will be utilized, created by a graduate student and special education teacher, Eva Balich. Link to example here.
The opening page displays a Bakery and four different hotspots. When a user clicks on the #1, a welcome message appears providing a preview of the activity. The message states, “Today you will see what it’s like to work in a bakery! You will learn about bakers and cake decorators. You will practice some skills. Maybe you can work in a real bakery someday! Watch the video below to begin.” The audio was recorded for this section as soon as the window opens it is read aloud by a teacher for the user. This built-in accessibility removes text barriers and provides multiple means of representation of the content: text and video. The remaining two hotspots on the example define what a baker does and provide an example of what a baker would bake: a baguette. The interactive nature of ThingLink allows a teacher to identify important visual aspects of a workplace environment and embed specific resources to supply background knowledge, expand on a concept, or elicit a response.
The second page of the example transitions to kitchen safety.
When the user clicks on the #1, the following text appears with the teacher’s narration, “A baker must remember kitchen safety rules. A baker always washes their hands to keep germs out of the kitchen. A baker is very careful when using knives. A baker wears oven mitts to protect their hands from the heat on the stove and in the oven. Watch the video to learn more about Kitchen Safety.” A button is included directing the user to a video on Kitchen Safety.
The second hotspot on the page is over the mixer and links to a video on making bread dough. This YouTube video can have the closed captions enabled and the speed can be increased or decreased based on student needs. Personalized videos of a student working within the space and executing a variety of tasks can be linked through YouTube into ThingLink.
The final hotspot utilized in this example is for an interactive activity. ThingLink allows the creator to link to any external website. For this example, a Boom Cards activity was embedded that allowed the user to sort clean and dirty dishes. The Boom Cards platform allows the designer to embed audio, provide reinforcement, and create a wide variety of interactive activities to check understanding and maintain processing of content.
Linda Davis, a Vocational Coordinator at a special education transition program, shared the following about the use of virtual job shadow technology: “ThingLink has given us the opportunity to continue with job shadows and tours of businesses for our students during COVID since we are not allowed to go on field trips. The students enjoy the interactive piece and the videos were easy and fun to create.” The accessibility of the platform provides the opportunity to extend its use throughout vocational experiences.
Initially used during the pandemic, this strategy can continue to support successful vocational placements for many individuals by providing increased practice and exposure to their work environments and expectations prior to, during, and after on-site job experiences. Utilizing a variety of educational technology to match a student’s needs within a vocational setting to pre-teach and review content outside of the setting can promote student success within the community (Van Laarhoven et al., 2012). Combining these more simulated training opportunities with actual on-site vocational experiences can provide greater benefit for individuals with ASD. This can better prepare individuals for the work setting and thus individuals with ASD can be more independent with workplace expectations.
Thank you to Eva Balich and Linda Davis for their participation in this project and their willingness to contribute.
Lauren Tucker, EdD, is an Assistant Professor and Kimberly Bean, EdD, is an Associate Professor at Southern Connecticut State University. To receive additional information about assistive technology opportunities, follow Lauren’s Wakelet account, join the mailing list, or connect via email, tuckerL7@southernct.edu.
Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq. (2004).
Newman, L., Wagner, M., Knokey, A.M., Marder, C., Nagle, K., Shaver, D., & Wei, X. (2011). The post-high schooloutcomes of young adults with disabilities up to 8 years after high school. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.
Seaman, R., & Cannella-Malone, H. (2016). Vocational Skills Interventions for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Review of the Literature. Journal of Developmental & Physical Disabilities, 28(3), 479–494. https://doi-org.scsu.idm.oclc.org/10.1007/s10882-016-9479-z
Shattuck, P. T., Narendorf, S. C., Cooper, B., Sterzing, P. R., Wagner, M., & Taylor, J. L. (2012). Postsecondary education and employment among youth with an autism spectrum disorder. Pediatrics, 129, 1042-1049. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2011-2864
Steinbrenner, J. R., Hume, K., Odom, S. L., Morin, K. L., Nowell, S. W., Tomaszewski, B., Szendrey, S., McIntyre, N. S., Yücesoy-Özkan, S., & Savage, M. N. (2020). Evidence-based practices for children, youth, and young adults with Autism. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, National Clearinghouse on Autism Evidence and Practice Review Team.
Van Laarhoven, T., Winiarski, L., Blood, E., & Chan, J. M. (2012). Maintaining vocational skills of individuals with autism and developmental disabilities through video modeling. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 47, 447–461.